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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – Movie Review

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

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Within the current realm of Hollywood rebooting successful series, one of the most popular trends has been to make the character younger and show how he started his journey into becoming the iconic hero we know today. The James Bond franchise successfully did this, as has Star Trek and even The Wizard of Oz. It was inevitable that Tom Clancy’s CIA agent Jack Ryan would join this group. Having been previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, Chris Pine takes on the role and Kenneth Branagh brings his Shakespearean eye to the director’s chair. However, this is more of a Mission: Impossible-style action picture and that is certainly not a bad direction to take the series, but character development is also thrown out of the window to make way for high-speed car chases and romantic squabbling.

Kenneth Branagh is careful in his direction, though he is saddled with a screenplay that limits the film’s potential. The film follows the expected beats of an action spy picture with no surprises or unexpected scenes, thus limiting the potential excitement. The beginning of Shadow Recruit delves a lot into exposition, with one big made-for-trailer line setting up the big threat and complete with dramatic music. The timeline jump from one point in Ryan’s life to the next, lasting maybe two minutes per scene is an unusual way to start the film, with his origin merely serving as a footnote. Those who are tired of superheroes taking almost an hour to wear the tights in their origin stories probably won’t mind the way Shadow Recruit rushes through Jack’s back-story.

The plot moves along, ticking all of the boxes and yet still does not find time to develop its characters into more than basic archetypes. Jack Ryan is the young agent with a good head on his shoulders. His girlfriend Cathy is the suspicious type who eventually gets kidnapped by the villain. The antagonist is an overly patriotic countryman acting on behalf of his own ideas to aide his home nation. Jack’s boss is the stern commander who sees brilliance in him. These are all characters we have seen before and the screenplay does little to add any new dimension to them.

However, the actors do manage to elevate themselves above the standard material. Chris Pine does not slide as neatly into Jack Ryan as he has done with Captain Kirk, but he brings a likeability to the role and makes him an action hero worth somewhat rooting for, despite the hints of Ethan Hunt that make their way into the character. Branagh avoids turning his antagonist into a Rocky & Bullwinkle villain, delivering a nicely subtle performance as even with a smile, there is something sinister seen underneath. Kevin Costner also brings the necessary roughness to his commander and showcases the usual understated, strong work expected from him. At times, Keira Knightley’s American accent can be shaky, but she’s more than adequate. It is a shame Cathy is an underwritten character, mostly resorting to being suspicious of Jack for the flimsiest reasons and getting kidnapped by Branagh. In this day and age of writers trying their hardest to make strong female characters who don’t merely serve as the hero’s love interest, Cathy’s depiction is disappointing.

Branagh more than picks things up during the action scenes. Even if the characters are one-dimensional, his direction still manages to bring a level of tension and excitement to a number of sequences. In one impressively executed and suspenseful sequence, Jack breaks into the antagonist’s office and it results in many thrilling close calls and even some well-earned moments of hilarity to occasionally lighten the mood. The climactic car chase is also fantastically choreographed and a great showcase for stunt motorists as it mainly relies on on-set driving rather than computer-generated effects. I am sure after being surrounded by green screen during production of Thor, Branagh wanted to return to real, practical effects. He can be prone to shaking the camera and this does distract from the otherwise strong action. Branagh does not overdo it, but it’s still a nuisance to have to try and figure out who is winning the fist fights at points. For a film so obviously built from the Mission: Impossible mold, it would have been nice if it also borrowed a lot of the swooping cinematography and carefully placed shots Robert Elswit brought to Ghost Protocol.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does not try to rewrite the action film rulebook and certainly does not approach the level of The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games from many years prior. Kenneth Branagh certainly has a good eye behind the camera and him tackling projects like Shadow Recruit and Thor shows he can do more than simply William Shakespeare adaptations. However, this script is not the Bard (not that it is attempting to be), but with a predictable beat at every turn and an ensemble of underwritten characters, it is merely a wait until the next car chase or hand-to-hand combat. With that said, the ending does set up more potential adventures with Chris Pine as Jack Ryan and if they flesh him out more, the next one can certainly be an improvement.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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